It couldn't possibly be happening!
But it was! They were mutatingall of them. Well, not all
of them, but enough to endanger the mission.
Vantu had witnessed the first few mutations
and had passed them off as normal background. He knew that every
generation experienced a few mutations, nearly all of them fatal,
but as the numbers mounted, so did his fear. They'd taken every
conceivable precaution; everything had worked perfectlyuntil
From the outset, the plan had been
to occupy the alien planet inconspicuously until they had sufficient
numbers to overwhelm the dominant indigenous species. Vantu had
spent years in planning the invasion. He and a select few had
been altered to synthesize telomerase at every replication, rendering
themselves immortal. And immortality is what they contributed
to their offspring, their copious offspring.
Vantu and the others had survived the
tedious and frequently lethal process that changed their form
without impairing their intellect. Survivors had journeyed to
the new planet where their arrival went unnoticed. Such was their
"There's no way that we could
just barge in and take over," Kramf said. "They have
gluon weapons that they don't dare use on each other, but they'd
damn sure use them on us!"
"Look," Omnacle replied,
"we've been there for decades now. The gravity is right;
the atmosphere is acceptable; and they have the resources we need.
And they're not even using it."
Omnacle surveyed the representatives.
He was certain that at least two hundred of the Ambassadors would
side with him, but he needed at least thirty more before calling
for a vote.
"No one disagrees with that,"
Kramf replied. "It's the best we've encountered. It's just
that we've waited too long. If we'd have invaded them when they
only had nuclear weaponsand only two of them, at thatwe
would have succeeded."
Chief Counsel Clarn raided his hand.
"We've been over this ground before. What we need is a solution,
not a restatement of the problem, or recriminations for past mistakes."
A murmur of agreement ran through the
assembled Ambassadors, and when it subsided, Clarn continued.
"The dominant species has become too sophisticated for us
to even consider challenging them. We'll have to find another
source of deuterium."
As Clarn's statement was translated
and disseminated to the 442 Ambassadors, cries of derision arose
in several hundred languages. Clarn unleashed wave after wave
of infrasonic pulse to bring order to the house, but to no avail.
Finally, the Ambassador from Skskvidne rose and remained standing
as the assembly came to order.
Clarn recognized the standee, and listened
for the translation of statement. "Honorable Chief Counsel,
I must disagree with your assessment
Clarn cut him off. "My assessment?
What I reported is the opinion of the finest minds on Neve!"
The Skskvidnean Ambassador assimilated
the translation. "I do not dare to disagree with the combined
intellect of Neve. My disagreement is with the Esteemed Chief
Counsel's assessment of what constitutes the dominant species
on the alien planet."
When the laughs and jeers had subsided,
Clarn asked the Skskvidnean to proceed.
"What you are calling the dominant
species," the Skskvidnean continued, "is merely the
most technologically advanced. Neither their population nor their
biomass qualifies them as the dominant species."
Clarn dismissed the comment with a
wave of his hand. "A minor point. And please don't waste
the Counsel's time with such trivia."
The Skskvidnean Ambassador refused
to yield the floor. "Begging your pardon, Exalted Chief Counsel,
but the presumptive 'dominant species' has been unable to subjugate
species that exceed their own numbers by many orders of magnitude."
Clarn had heard enough. "Thank
you for the Biology 101 lecture, but the council has more important
business at hand."
Once again, the Skskvidnean Ambassador
refused to be seated. "Omniscient Chief Counsel, my point
is that if we were to disguise ourselves as the de facto
dominant species, we would not be detected by the presumptive
"And what might the de facto
dominant species be?" Clarn asked, trying unsuccessfully
to keep the scorn he felt out of his voice.
Hesitancy revealed his uncertainty,
as the Skskvidnean replied, " Bacteria
Laughter obliterated the remainder
of his statement until Clarn pulsed for order.
"And are you saying that we should
disguise ourselves as bacteria and invade the alien planet?"
When the assembly was once again pulsed
into silence, the Skskvidnean Ambassador replied. "Imperious
Chief Counsel, what I suggest is not that we disguise ourselves
as bacteria, but as another species that vastly outnumber the
dominant species, a species that the dominant species tolerates,
Clarn was now interested. "Such
"Wondrous Chief Counsel, I would
not deign to suggest a specific species. I leave that to the best
minds of Neve. I merely assert that there are many such species
within whose members we could hide ourselves until we had sufficient
numbers to successfully capture the alien planet."
It took several pulses for Clarn to
regain order. Krampf was the first to speak. "An interesting
concept. I thank the Skskvidnean Ambassador for bringing it to
our attention. But, I'm certain that it is fraught with hazards."
"Not as many as you might think,"
Counselor Wromb said, "but not practical, either. We would
need an organism with more sensory modalities."
"And why is that?" Clarn
"We would have to retain our self-awareness
as Nevean in our host species or we would, in fact, become them."
"Go on," Clarn said.
"So our host species would need
to draw information from the environment, information that would
have survival benefit."
"Are you saying that the host
species should have vision?"
"That's exactly what I'm saying.
And they should have nociceptors, like taste and smell to avoid
toxic substances; vibratory sensors to hear or feel acoustic waves;
tactile receptor; kinesthetics; etc."
"So what kind of creature are
we talking about?" Clarn asked.
"Actually, I would like to ask
the Ambassador from Skskvidnea to chair a subcommittee to identify
the best possible species and report back to the counsel."
Clarn scrolled through the roster on
his rhabdoscreen. "Ambassador Hdlvrena, would you be so kind
as to accept this appointment?"
Over the next several months, Hdlvrena
assembled a subcommittee of molecular geneticists, microbiologists,
neurophysiologists, and embryologists to examine the myriad species
from the alien planet that might safely harbor Nevean genes. The
subcommittee recruited scientists in other disciplines as difficulties
in their domains arose. While deliberations were conducted within
the walls of several universities, outside the walls, sectors
of the citizenry protested the idea of tinkering with the Supreme
"It's saying that we're as good
than the Extreme Ones!" Jalil shouted. "And
what's it all about? It's about deuterium!"
The small crowd cheered as Jalil waited
to continue. Finally, he could wait no longer. "I have undeniable
proof that the High Council has artificially created the deuterium
shortage for their own benefit! To make us give them the power
they needthe power they've always wantedto conduct
their sacrilegious genetic experiments!"
As the cheering subsided once again,
Jalil continued. "This is not about stealing the deuterium
from another planet before they discover how to fuse it into every
other elementwe could have done that generations ago! It
is about creating a race of slavescreatures to serve the
will of the High Council!"
One of the crowd shouted to be heard
above the others. "Then why have so many of the fusion plants
been shut down??"
"Pressure," Jalil said. "Pressure
to get what they want! Could they say that there was a deuterium
shortage if all the plants were operating? Of course not! So they
shut them down!"
The doubter continued. "Couldn't
they have created the slaves you claim they want to create several
generations ago, too?"
"Yes! Undoubtedly!" Jalil
continued. "But it is only because of our constant vigilance,
our constant resolve, that they have been unable to make us slaves!"
Civil Units arrived as Jalil was finishing
his response, and the crowd quickly dispersed. But not before
the Civil Unit had Face-T-Scanned every protestor.
Hdlvrena was the best possible candidate
to chair the subcommittee. He had a broad background in the sciences,
and before becoming Ambassador from Skskvidnea, he had been a
professional "head hunter." By specializing in the "wet"
sciences, Hdlvrena was able to justify a huge expenditure of time
keeping himself abreast of scientific developments and breakthroughs.
Every member of the subcommittee knew that each statement, each
assertion, would be thoroughly scrutinized for veracity.
After a few false starts, the subcommittee
focused on arthropods as the most likely hosts. Like the arthropods,
amphibianscloser physiologically to Neveansunderwent
a metamorphosis that activated dormant genes that transformed
the creatures into adult form, but the transformation from aquatic
to terrestrial form would prove problematical. Echinoderms, which
underwent metamorphosis from bilateral symmetry to radial symmetry,
likewise had gene clusters that were only expressed in the adult
form, but marine invertebrates were quickly ruled out as unworkable.
Isopods were examined closely as a
potential host species, but were excluded as the plan developed.
The host species would need to be more mobile than the earth-bound
isopods. Several species of insects were considered, but in each
case, the dominant alien species had developed toxins to eradicate
"The honey bee," Hdlvrena
said, "is the best compromise. They're bred and cultivated
by the dominant species; they live in large colonies where they
rear their young; and they are mobile."
"But we have no captive specimens
of the alien honey bee," Wromb replied.
"This is true," Hdlvrena
said, "but our collection of alien fauna is meager anyway.
There are no other species among our specimens that would fulfill
Clarn had been listening to the subcommittee
report for the better part of two hours. Finally, he'd heard enough
to plan a course of action. "So you're saying that whatever
species we use would have to be captured on the alien planet and
returned here for study."
"Exactly so, Chief Counsel,"
Hdlvrena replied, "And since we need to return to the alien
planet anyway, we should capture not only the primary candidate
species, but all those on the prioritized list."
Clarn knew the answer to his next question,
but he asked it nonetheless so that it would be before the High
Council. "Won't that set the plan back by four years?"
"At least that," Hdlvrena
answered, "even if the collection takes only days. But, I'm
afraid that our genetic modeling cannot proceed without the native
"Then it shall be done!"
Clarn stated, ending further discussion. He commended Hdlvrena
for his expeditious and thorough report, and requested that he
relinquish his ambassadorial duties so that he might accept a
High Council appointment as Director of Research on Project B,
as the plan was to be called.
Hdlvrena was not fit for space travel;
he'd fantasized about becoming an Envoy when he attended university,
but settled for a Neve-bound career as a government science advisor.
And that too many years ago.
His choice to head the collection mission
was Vantu, a seasoned Envoy with a strong background in zoology,
both Neve's and the alien planet's. It had been an easy decision;
no other Envoy possessed Vantu's unique knowledge of the alien
planet's insect species. Hdlvrena was certain that Clarn would
approve his candidate.
The alien planet was at an awkward
distance. Vantu's craft would have to accelerate for nearly a
year and then immediately start to decelerate to the capture velocity
of the alien planet. Decelerating for a year was standard procedure,
but there was usually an extended period of coasting between the
acceleration and deceleration phases of the voyage. Had the alien
planet been even a light-month closer, Vantu could have convinced
the High Council to give him a C2 ship, but the range was just
too great. Hdlvrena had taken that into account when he'd given
the High Council his estimate of the mission duration.
Vantu carefully selected the rest of
the crew. Although he, himself, had been an Envoy for more than
thirty years, he realized that a second, and possibly a third
Envoy should be among the crew to cover contingencies. Two geozoologists,
little more than Under Chairs, comprisedalong with Vantuthe
ecoteam. A Chief Engineer and a Med/Surg would keep the machine
and the crew, respectively, in good health.
Chief Council Clarn rubber-stamped
Hdlvrena's approval of Vantu's crew and consist, although he was
taken aback by the cost of the mission. Hdlvrena reminded him,
"Without this expenditure, our ultimate missionacquisition
of the alien planet's deuteriumcannot proceed. And if it
does not proceed, we will surely be fusing helium in not more
than twenty years. I don't need to tell you how costly that will
Clarn agreed that he did not need to
be reminded about the cost of converting their fusion plants from
deuterium to helium. He approved the mission budget over the objections
of several ambassadors.
Vantu's tardyonic craft was fueled
and provisioned within a week. It was agreed that because of the
abundance of deuterium on the alien planet, only outbound fuel
would be loaded; the extra volume inside the craft had been fitted
with more commodious living, dining, and recreation quarters.
None of the crew objected, although the engineer insisted on a
sufficient supply of hypercompressed deuterium granules to see
them safely through any conceivable adverse conditions. Vantu
carved the extra space out of the engineer's living quarters.
Although both geozoologists were in
mid-term at their respective universities, an edict from Clarn
to the Chancellors was honored immediately. Replacements would
be found for Under Chairs Inaltera and Tfift.
Tfift nearly declined the four-year
appointment, stating that her young would not develop appropriately
if she were to leave them now. Vantu and the Chancellor of Tfift's
university succeeded in convincing her that not only would her
brood be adequately cared for, but also she, herself, would return
to Neve to find the Chair of Geozoology at Hrdlicka University
would now be hers. Of course, Inaltera was similarly promoted.
The two-year journey was uneventful,
save for the near-overload of the broad-spectrum antiphasers as
the craft approached the alien planet. Radio-frequency emanations
from the alien planet had increased by several orders of magnitude
since Neve's last probe. Except for graviton signatures detected
but not deciphered by laser interferometers in the U.S. and Australia,
the team's arrival went unnoticed.
Chief Engineer Bavistrand immediately
configured the deuterium extraction and compaction unit to replenish
their fuel from one of the alien planet's oceans. If only the
inhabitants of this planet realized the resources it had
Tfift and Inaltera divided the task
of collecting samples of the alien planet's hymenoptera. Tfift
concentrated on species of bees, while Inaltera collected social
wasp specimens, which were the alternative species if bee genetics
proved daunting. When their primary objectives were achieved,
both geozoologists turned to other related species, including
solitary wasps, wingless wasps, and ants. To minimize the probability
of detection, collection was limited to the time necessary to
refuel the ship. This constraintstrongly objected to by
both geozoologistsseverely curtailed the choice of species.
Only those indigenous to the southern hemisphere were captured.
They had no more than lifted off for
the return trip when Tfift started grousing. "A four year
round trip and only four days to collect specimens," she
said, thinking of the time away from her brood. "It's hardly
seems worth it!"
"The point of this trip,"
Bavistrand retorted, "is to ultimately acquire the planet's
deuterium, not to catch bugs!"
Both geozoologists busied themselves
on the return trip with transgenic experiments. One by one, they
tested the ability of each species to breed true as increasingly
lengthy segments of extraneous DNA were inserted into their genome.
The clear winner was one of the solitary wasp species that Inaltera
had captured. After considerable experimentation, Tfift and Inaltera
identified homologous DNA sequences in the best species of bees
and in the solitary wasp.
Systematically splicing non-homologous
sequences allowed the geozoologist to create a chimera that was
anatomically and physiologically bee-like, but tolerated insertion
of extensive sequences of extraneous DNA. Months before landing
on Neve, several colonies of chimeric bees had formed, and the
remaining species had been culled to a manageable size. Tfift
and Inaltera had earned their promotions.
Complete genomic sequences of the native
species and of the chimeras were transmitted to Neve prior to
the craft's arrival. Molecular geneticists on Neve, working with
the fully sequenced genome of their own species, quickly identified
significant numbers of homologous sequences in the chimera. They
would not need to introduce these Nevian genes into the chimera
genome, which would leave room for the non-homologous sequences.
Although the Nevian karyotype was different
from that of the chimera, the molecular geneticists worked around
the problem by splicing kinetochore sequences into the chimera
genome at locations appropriate to the Nevian karyotype and methylated
them so that they would not expressuntil the time came for
The High Council kept Vantu and his
crew apprised of the genetic developments on Neve. Still, the
travelers were surprised to find on their return that molecular
geneticists had been unable to compress the Nevian sequences sufficiently
to satisfy the maximum-insertion-length constraints imposed by
the chimera genome. Because the scientist had been unable to insert
all of the non-homologous Nevian sequences into the chimera genome,
the project had stalled. Out of respect for Tfift and Inaltera,
the Nevian scientists had withheld that information from them.
Nevian scientists involved in the project
had scheduled a meeting with Tfift and Inaltera to get their first
look at the alien species, and to inform the travelers of the
impasse. The returning geozoologists briefed the assembled scientists
for more than two hours, explaining in great detail the habitats,
nutritional requirements, social behaviors, etc. of the native
species and of the chimera, now called Super Bee.
When it was her turn to speak, Gavizon,
the Chief Scientist assigned to the project, lauded Tfift and
Inaltera for their magnificent accomplishments, and only then
- in supplicative tones - did she admit the defeat of the Nevian
team. "I'm afraid I have some bad news. The Super Bee karyotype
contains too little DNA to hide the Nevian genomeeven if
we exclude homologous regions."
Gavizon scanned the faces of the returning
geozoologists for reactions. Sensing only intense interest on
their part, she continued. "The problem is if we insert all
of the Nevian genome that we need to, some of the Super Bee chromosomes
become so large that meiosisand, therefore reproductionis
Before Gavizon had finished her statement,
both Tfift and Inaltera broke into uncontrollable laughter. It
was many seconds before Gavizon could ask the obvious. "What
is so funny? This is a serious problem!"
Once again, the two geozoologists broke
into laughter. Finally, when Tfift could catch her breath, she
sputtered, "It doesn't matter!"
"What doesn't matter?" Gavizon
asked. "If Super Bee can't reproduce, it's useless!"
"But it can reproduce," Tfift
said between gasps for breath.
"I don't understand." Gavizon
By this time, Tfift had composed herself.
"Super Bee has two forms of reproduction, sexual and asexual."
"Asexual reproduction in a higher
life form?" Gavizon asked. "Unheard of!"
"Maybe on Neve," Tfift continued,
"but very common among the alien planet's arthropods."
"Which means," Inaltera added,
"that the karyotype is largely irrelevant. "Make Super
Bee tetraploidor hexaploid for that matterif you need
more room for our own genome. Unless, of course, there's a dosage-compensation
mechanism for some gene expression."
Gavizon found her mouth gaping. "We never would have considered
"Don't feel bad," Inaltera
said. "We wouldn't either if we hadn't witnessed it in the
colonies. It is by far the dominant form of reproduction in Super
"So," Gavizon continued,
"you don't see a problem with doubling the size of the genome?"
"Like I said," Inaltera reiterated,
"only if there's a dosage-compensation mechanism
I'm betting that there isn't."
The assembly erupted in applause, following
Given the newfound flexibility in genome
size, molecular geneticists were able to hide the entire non-homologous
Nevian genome within a tetraploid bee species. When expression
of a few Nevian genes proved mutagenic, researchers relocated
them within the bee genome. In mere months, tetraploid bees were
parthenogenetically reproducing phenotypically normal bees.
Each success in hiding increasingly
greater stretches of the Nevian genome provided new challenges
for the ultimate expression of that genome. In addition to the
biological constraints, ethics interceded to slow the project.
While work continued on developing a method to inhibit expression
of the bee genome and simultaneously promoting expression of the
Nevian genes, debated raged over the ultimate fate of expressed
chimeras, and, indeed, on the need to destroy Nevian embryos generated
in the process. An uneasy peace was reached between scientists
and ethicians when it was decidedmandated, actuallythat
any Nevian embryos would be destroyed before reaching the blastula
stage of development.
The ban on allowing embryos to develop
past the morula stage imposed on the experiments the requirement
that the Nevian clones to be released on the alien planet be perfect
in every way - without having done the necessary experiments on
Neve. It required that development from the morula stage to full
gestation proceed normally, without testing that requirement.
In a converted suite of offices in
the bowels of the National Laboratory of Genetics, a team of scientists
worked without official sanction to determine whether developmental
anomalies would occur beyond the morula stage of development.
They did! Through intermediates, the results of the illicit experiments
were funneled to the "official" team of molecular geneticists,
who frequently had no idea why they were testing yet another modification
of their gene-expression procedures.
Instead of months, the research required
more than a year to complete, a year in which the first of Neve's
fusion generators was taken off-line for conversion to helium
Hdlvrena was righteously irked. "You're cutting this really
close, Vantu! It's been nearly two years and we haven't even scheduled
a launch yet."
"Couldn't be helped," Vantu
replied. "Youbetter than mostknow what research
is: ninety-percent failure."
Before Hdlvrena could respond, Vantu
continued in a more conciliatory tone. "You must also know
that I had nothing to do with the selection of the Skskvidne III
as the first fusion plant to be retrofitted. It was purely economics."
"That's not the way I see it!
Ever since Clarn was deposed, Skskvidne has been the target of
ridicule. It wasn't my fault that the plan had to be put off for
"Well, it was your plan!"
"And a good one, too! If we had
had the necessary specimens, like we should have had, we'd be
swimming in heavy water now instead of fusing helium.
"Trust me," Vantu said. "In
another four years, we'll have a constant supply of deuterium."
"I doubt it!" Hdlvrena said.
"It'll take whatten, twelve replications before initiating
expression of our own genes?"
"Something like that, but the
first four rounds of replication will occur en route. The ship
is designed to hold twenty attendants and sixty-four thousand
Super Bees. We've tried to speed pupation, but we've found a lower
time limiteven at elevated temperaturethat can't be
breeched without massive mutations."
"How many will be launched?"
"Our target is eight thousand,
but we won't know for certain until just before launch."
By launch time, only four thousand
viable Super Bees had been developed. It was a disappointment
that Vantu would have to live with. The one bright spot in the
plan was that he'd convinced Inaltera that she should take a sabbatical
leave from the university and accept the position of Onboard Science
Coordinator. Neither Vantu nor Inaltera needed to mention that
with her last brood in pupation, Inaltera would come into season
during the trip to the alien planet.
Although centrifuge studies had shown
that only a small fraction of Super Bees would succumb to the
N-loads experienced during launch, nearly half failed to survive
the launch. Inaltera jettisoned the corpses, and watched as others
died during the acceleration phase of the trip.
With the original population severely
depleted, the first space-borne generation failed to bring the
ship's complement to the original four thousand. When the second
generation brought the Super Bee population to fewer than sixteen
thousand, Vantu had to abandon the original plan.
"We won't launch four landers,
as we'd originally planned. With fewer than sixteen thousand Super
Bees aboard, we'll launch only a single lander. That way we'll
be able to give the bees our full attention."
"That's risky, Vantu," Inaltera
said. "If there's a problem with the lander, the whole project
will be compromised."
"We've discussed that before,
"Don't call me that!"
"Okay, as you wish," Vantu
continued. "The risk of reducing the population of Super
Bee to fewer than two thousand per colony far exceeds the risk
of landing a single viable colony."
"But..." Inaltera stammered.
"The decision has been made
Without a word, Inaltera stomped from
the room, deeply regretting how badly she'd misjudged Vantu. She'd
just have to live with her decision. Hormones certainly alter
Alicia felt sluggish as she slipped
out of bed. "Brush your teeth," her mother shouted up
to her. "I'll have breakfast ready in a minute."
"Brush your teeth!" Alicia
mimicked her mother under her breath, as she slogged to the bathroom.
"Quit it!" she shouted at
Muggs, her Cocker Spaniel, who greeted her every morning with
a muzzle. Muggs, unjustly chastised, slinked away and ran down
Alicia immediately regretted shouting
at Muggs. It wasn't his fault that she felt this way. Not sick,
but not quite well, either.
"You have to eat more than that,
Sugar," her mother said as Alicia pushed way her half eaten
bowl of Cheerios.
"I'm just not hungry this morning."
Her mother pressed a hand to Alicia's
forehead. "No fever. Are you feeling alright?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
"What test do you have today?"
her mother asked.
not too worried about it."
Alicia felt worse at school. She didn't
hurt anywhere; she just felt punky. At recess, she declined an
invitation to playgossip mostlywith Jane and Emily,
and wandered over to the corner of the schoolyard.
She'd just slid down to a sitting position
when a flash in her peripheral vision drew her attention. A dark-colored
sphere, just slightly larger than a basketball dropped almost
to the ground and disappeared.
Alicia looked to the sky to see where
the sphere might have come from, but found nothing. The sphere
reappeared just as suddenly as it had disappeared. As Alicia turned
her attention once again to the sphere, she watched as beesthousands
of themswarmed out of holes in the sphere's surface. The
bees whirled in clouds and then flew directly toward her.
Alicia jumped to her feet and screamed
as the swarm overtook her, and then just as quickly it departed
for the nearby woods. Her scream alerted the schoolyard, and immediately
students ran for the safety of the classrooms. The shouts and
screams of her classmates masked Alicia's screams as she witnessed
numerous creatures exiting the sphere and crawling swiftly toward
"I saw it!" Alicia insisted.
"It was right there!" She pointed to the place where
the sphere had been.
"Then where is it?" Mrs.
Owens asked. "It couldn't just disappear."
"But it did, Mrs. Owens! I told
you that's where the bees came from."
"Yes, I know, Alicia, but you
said other thingsbugscame out of it, too."
"They weren't bugsI know
bugs. They were something else."
"Then what were they? Where did
"I don't know what they were,
but they weren't bugs! They looked at me!"
"Really. Alicia? How many eyes
did they have?"
"I couldn't tell how many eyes
they had, but I know they looked at me!"
"We've checked the place where
you said the sphere was, but there's nothing there. The grass
isn't even pushed down."
"I saw what I saw!" Alicia
"Are you feeling okay?" Mrs.
"No!" Alicia answered as
the tears started to flow. "I want to go home."
Mrs. Owens called Alicia's mother,
who came to pick her daughter up. Mrs. Owens intercepted her and
ushered her into the office while Alicia waited on the notorious
bench outside the Principal's Office.
"Alicia was attacked by a swarm
of bees," Mrs. Owens said, "although she wasn't stung."
"Is that what upset her?"
"No," Mrs. Owens said, "There's
more. Alicia insists that some other kind of creature came out
of the sphere that landed next to her."
"A sphere? Have you called the
"There was no sphere," Mrs.
Owens said. "And no creatures. I think Alicia had some sort
"That's absurd! Alicia doesn't
have hallucinations, and I'll thank you to keep those thoughts
" Mrs. Owens
said, "don't take this personally. I think Alicia is coming
down with something, and that caused her to misperceive what actually
"And what would that be?"
"I think she just saw the bees
swarming and panicked."
"Alicia is a very level-headed
"I am well aware of that,"
Mrs. Owens said, "and that makes me suspect that she's coming
down with something."
"I see. She didn't feel quite
right this morning - she even shouted at the dog - so you might
"The school nurse says that Alicia's
temperature is elevatedslightlybut that could be due
to the excitement."
They called Alicia into the office
and asked her to tell them about the sphere again. It was obvious
to Alicia that Mrs. Owen didn't believe her. She wasn't sure about
On the ride home, her mother asked
her to relate the story again, and stopped her repeatedly for
clarification. At home, her mother asked her to draw a picture
of the creatures she'd seen emerging from the sphere. Even with
her outstanding ability to draw, Alicia wasn't satisfied with
her efforts to depict the creatures. They were just so different
from any others she'd ever seen. And now she was sure that what
she saw on them were clothes, rather than skin.
When the adrenaline of the day waned,
Alicia found herself exhausted, so she took a bath and changed
into her warmest flannel pajamas. As she slid between her sheets,
she called Muggs, who apparently had forgiven heras dogs
dofor shouting at him. In minutes, the two friends were
The following morning, Alicia's mother
called Mrs. Owen. "Alicia is going to be out of school for
a while. She has the chickenpox." A joint laugh ended the
conversation, and the "sphere episode," as it came to
be called by Alicia's family.
To save energy, Vantu let the landing
craft descend at an alarming rate, only starting the repulsion
engine at the last possible moment. He'd selected a wooded area
adjacent to the cemetery in a tiny rural community. It was not
until the craft had cleared the trees that Vantu recognized his
error; there was a cluster of humans swarming about the surface
adjacent to the trees.
A brief lateral repulsion maneuver
directed the craft away from the humans, and it was not until
Vantu and his crew exited the craft that they realized that they
had been observed by a single human.
The humans were huge; they were much
larger than Inaltera had imagined. She'd hoped to see one on her
previous Earth trip, but had never done so. Inaltera was sure
that the human had looked at her. She knew that humans had only
two eyes, but she was absolutely certain that the human had fixed
them both on her as she ran for cover.
The strange loud noise that the human
made terrified her. She thought about abandoning the project and
running back to the landing craft, but before she had a chance,
the pilot initiated repulsion and the craft disappeared. By then,
the human was in full flight away from the landing site. The landing
party hid among the trees bordering the school grounds.
Alicia's tiny school was surrounded
by apple orchards, which provided the major income of the rural
community. Each orchard had clusters of boxed hives whose occupants
fertilized the apple blossoms. A few boxes in each cluster were
empty; one of those was the target.
The swarm would inhabit a box and multiply.
When that box was filled, the landing party would drive the queen
from the neighboring box and Super Bees would expand into their
new home. Over several months, the Super Bees would increase their
numbers exponentially without human interference. When sufficient
numbers of Super Bees had been created, the landing party would
activate the programmable histones in their genomes, and two generations
later, they would be fully Nevian. An invasion party would supply
the ultimate weapon to each of the millions of Nevians.
Vantu had no doubt that humans would
fall victim to their weapon. He'd discussed the weapon with Inaltera
during their previous trip to Earth.
"We don't know exactly how it
works," he said, "but it looks like it disrupts microtubule
formation and function."
"What does it do to them?"
Vantu shook his head. "We don't
know that either."
"So," Inaltera continued,
"You're going to conquer Earth with a weapon whose mode of
action you don't understand."
"Look at it this way, Pet. What
would you call an organism that was unable to accomplish any metabolic
Inaltera ignored the pet name. "I'd
call it severely handicapped."
"Well, I'd call it dead. Metabolism
separated the living from the dead."
"Do you suppose it hurts?"
"It can't hurt. Pain requires
"Which requires transport
and microtubules." Inaltera finished his sentence. "But
couldn't the humans use that against us?"
"You got away with it once, but
Vantu winced. "No, humans don't
have the weapon. They're are still at the stage of punching holes
through their bodies to kill one another."
"Surely they're not that primitive."
"Trust me, P Trust me, their
most devastating weapon is still about punching bigger holes in
more bodies. No finesse at all."
Inaltera rolled away from Vantu and
pulled the covers over her shoulder. "I just hope you're
Word finally came that a sufficient
amount of Tubulase had been produced and a ship would soon be
dispatched to Earth with enough to subdue all 8.4 billion Earthlings,
if necessary. The Supreme Council had debates right up to the
last possible moment on the relative merits of trying to get Earth
to relinquish its vast stores of deuterium willingly. Realistically,
even the staunchest opponents of the conquest had to agree that
once Earth knew the reason for Neve's dependence on deuterium,
Earthlings would insist on knowing the secrets of fusion.
"A C2 ship will be dispatched
within the next week," Vantu confirmed. "It's time to
activate the Nevian genome."
"I can't understand it,"
Miley Toms said to the similarly flannel-clad farmer seated across
the booth from him. "Four hives just disappeared overnight."
"Who do you think stole them?"
his companion asked.
"Nobody stole them, Clem. The
hives are there, but the bees are gone."
Sam Burt at the counter overheard them.
"I had three hives abandoned, too, Miley. When did yours
"Near as I can tell, Sam, some
time between last Tuesday and this Thursday."
"Same here," came a voice
from another booth. "I discovered six empty hives on Thursday
Shirley refilled Miley and Clem's coffee
cups, and started for the next booth. "Maybe you should get
Sheriff Dixon involved."
"What'd we tell him, Shirl, that
our bees quit us?"
"Does seem strange, though,"
Sam opined. "Maybe Shirley's got the right idea."
Sheriff Dixon found that bees were
missing from eleven different orchards. A total of forty-four
hives had been abandoned.
Vantu had found an unused fruit cellar
in the oldest section of one of the orchards. The fruit cellar
hadn't been used since refrigerated storage buildings had made
it obsolete nearly thirty years ago.
"This is perfect," Inaltera
said. "We can raise both generations here without being detected."
"There's even water piped in from
a well," Vantu said, "and there is plenty of local fauna
for nourishment, not to mention apples in great abundance."
"As soon as the rest of the landing
party retrieves the equipment," Inaltera said, "we'll
start to transform the first generation."
Inaltera was interrupted by one of
the landing party. "I don't understand why we don't just
turn the bees back into us."
"The way we've set this up,"
Inaltera explained, "is a two-stage procedure."
"Yeah, but why not one stage?"
the Nevian continued.
"First," Inaltera proceeded,
"we're too much bigger than the bees. We'd have to cause
the bee larvae to become huge before the transformation."
"But couldn't you do that?"
the Nevian persisted.
"We could, but there would be
major risks," Inaltera said. "For instance, if we didn't
delay maturation of each bee's anatomical and physiological systems
by precisely the same amount, some systems would develop disproportionately,
which would probably kill them."
The quizzical Nevian nodded, but his
expression showed lingering doubt.
"And, besides," Inaltera
added, "we'd have to inhibit the bee genome at precisely
the same time as we disinhibit the hidden Nevian genome."
The Nevian nodded dutifully, but without
"This way," Inaltera continued,
"we create an adult bee/Nevian larva chimera in the first
generation by activating the Nevian genome while leaving the bee
genome active. Then, when the third or fourth instars pupate,
we inhibit the bee genome so that only the Nevian genes are functional."
"And the beauty of this plan,"
Vantu chuckled, "is that the Earthlings will be delighted
by how their apple crop swells from our waste products."
It took several days to assemble the
necessary equipment. The landing party worked around the clock
preparing the histone deactivator, feeding and watering the captive
bees, and removing larvae and pupae. Only adult bees would be
Activation of the Nevian genome initiated
a growth spurt that eventually required a molt. As more of the
chimeras molted, the landing party became alarmed at the grotesqueness
of the chimeric instars.
"Don't let it worry you,"
Inaltera assured the workers. "The chimeras will look strange
until we inhibit the bee genome. Then, they'll look just like
While she was able to placate the landing
party, she had to admit her fears to Vantu. "I didn't expect
them to look so horrible."
"Why not, Pet? Surely you're aware
that interspecific matings frequently produce unanticipated sports."
Inaltera worried about her own intraspecific
mating with Vantu. She regretted having shed her caudal plastron
in his presence. "Sports? Did you call them 'sports'? I haven't
heard that term since my history of biology course."
"What else could you call them?
They aren't mutants."
"I know. I just didn't expect
to be disgusted by them."
Vantu touched her carapace patronizingly.
"Let's see what he next molt brings."
With the second molt fast approaching,
the landing party had to work in shifts to remove the shed chitinophosphatic
exoskeletons. During the first molt, chimeras were observed to
ingest the casts, only to succumb to acute poisoning. Although
the Nevians conserved energy by recycling their casts, apparently
the chimeras had not yet mobilized the enzymes required to digest
Sheriff Dixon slid into the booth across
from Sam Burt. "Never did find the bees, but we have another
Sam sipped his coffee, not wishing
to rise to the bait that the sheriff dangled in front of him.
"What might that be?" he finally asked.
"Bugs! Big, ugly bugs!"
"What kind of bugs, Sheriff?"
The sheriff scratched his head. "I
don't rightly know. I ain't never seen them."
"Sheriff, you been hittin' the
cider? You say we got bugsbig, ugly onesbut you ain't
"I know it sounds strange, Sam,
but all I've seen are their skinslike cicada shells stuck
"Skins, you say?"
"Yeah, big gnarly oneseven
bigger'n a cicada."
Sam put his cup down. "Where'd
you see these skins?"
"Here an' there."
"Is this a joke, Sheriff? I don't
"It's no joke, Sam. I sent one
of the skins to the university. I'm hopin' they can tell us what
we got. As big as these suckers are, it wouldn't take many to
wipe out an orchard."
Shirley returned from the last booth
and poured the sheriff a coffee; she gave Sam a splash before
swishing back to the kitchen. Both men watched as her hips took
turns demanding their full attention. She knew they were ogling,
but she'd only start worrying when they stopped.
"You were saying
"So far I've found six of them,
all close to Brown's lake."
"You think they came outa the
The sheriff took a swig of his coffee.
"Yeah, like dragon flies. That's what I think."
"You're a worry wart, Sheriff.
Let's wait an' hear what the university guys have to say."
The landing party reported that some
Earthlings had taken a particular interest in the lake where they'd
dumped the casts.
"Do you think they found any of
the molts?" Vantu asked.
"They couldn't have. The fish
practically jump out of the water to get what we throw in."
"You'd better find another place
anyway," Vantu said. "We wouldn't want to be discovered
The worker sighed audibly. "How
many more molts?"
"Two more should do it,"
Vantu answered. "Then the chimeras will pupate and we can
inhibit the bee genome."
"I hope the next instar looks
better than this one," the worker said, as he gathered up
"So do I," Vantu said. "So
But the next instar wasn't any better.
If anything, their increased size just made them look more hideous.
As directed, the landing party found
a new location to dispose of the casts. The new lake was less
convenient and required even more effort on the part of the workers.
Being more than twice the distance to the first lake, the new
lake significantly increased the possibility that the Nevians
would be detected before they could complete their task.
The third instar was nearly twice the
size of a prepupescent Nevian. The few deaths that occurred taxed
the energy and resources of the landing party, and disposal of
the dead instars consumed an inordinate amount of the workers'
time. The result was carelessness. Not all of the casts made it
to the lake, and ultimately a trio of overworked Nevians overlooked
a dead instar.
"There's just no end to this thing,"
Sheriff Dixon said as he took his place in the booth with Sam
"More bugs, Sheriff?" Sam
The sheriff removed his hat and wiped
his forehead with his sleeve. "Yeah, only bigger and uglier."
"How big is bigger?" Miley
The sheriff waited while Shirley filled
his cup. "You know that Hula Frog plug that you like so much?"
"You mean the one that got me
the Catch of the Season two years ago? That fish was"
"Don't start, Miley!" Sam
said. "We heard about it a million times."
Miley glared at both men and took a
pull on his coffee.
"As big as that?" Sam asked.
"Yup, and not nearly as pretty."
"You think them things are still
growing?" Miley asked.
"I hope not," the sheriff
said, "'cause anything that size must have a big appetite."
"How many'd you find?" Sam
"Just a couple, Sam, but I'm bettin'
there's more, maybe lots more."
"So why don't you get Brown to
poison his lake with insecticide?" Sam asked.
The sheriff sipped his coffee. "I
didn't say I found them at Brown's lake."
"Then where'd you find them?"
"Davenport found one and called
me. We only found one more, but we're gonna look some more tomorrow
"Any word from the university?"
"Yeah, Sam, they said it's a new
species. They ain't never seen anything like it. They're doin'
"You gonna send the new bugs to
them?" Miley asked.
"Yeah, but first we're gonna get
some nets and see if we can catch a live one in the lake. Then
we'll send them that too."
"Look," Vantu said to the
exhausted workers, "one more instar stage and we'll be ready
for the transformation."
A unanimous groan emerged from the
assembled landing party. "I think we've been discovered,"
one of the workers said.
"Discovered?" Vantu asked.
All eyes were on the worker. "When
we went to the lake this morning, there were some Earthlings there
poking nets into the water."
"Then you'll have to find another
lake," Vantu said.
Once again, the workers emitted a groan,
this time followed by continued grumbling. "We'd have to
go even farther to get rid of the casts."
"Worse than that, I'm afraid,"
Vantu said. "You'll have to find a lake that doesn't put
our present location in the center of a circle of lakes.
"Like where?" a worker asked.
"Ideally, at a spot that's between
the other two lakes, but farther out," Vantu answered.
"Couldn't we just stack the casts
here?" the worker asked. "There's plenty of room."
"We'll discard the chrysalides
here," Vantu said, "when we've inhibited the bee genome.
It won't matter then if the Earthlings find them here. Then it
will be too late. But for now, we'll have to find another place
to dump them."
"Sheriff!" Miley shouted.
Look at this!" Miley Toms had found the dead instar that
the overworked landing party had discarded.
Sam Burt was the first to arrive. 'Well,
"Nobody touches it!" Sheriff
Dixon shouted, as he spotted the dead creature.
"What the hell is it?" Miley
"Don't know, Miley," the
sheriff said, "but we pulled a couple of its shells outta
"It ain't really a bug,"
Miley said. "Bugs have six legs, and this thing only has
"Ain't so, Miley," Sam said.
"Look at them real short legs stickin' outa its belly."
"Them ain't legs," Miley
"Then what are they?" Sam
"That's enough!" the sheriff
said. "We don't know if it's an insect or somethin' else.
We won't know until the university guys study it."
The other three men who had been netting
the lake gathered around the dead instar and gawked. "I got
a plastic dish in my truck that has a tight fittin' lid,"
one of the men said. "You can put that thing in it if you
want, only I ain't pickin' it up."
Following a tension-relieving laugh,
the sheriff rolled the chimera over with a couple of twigs.
"That thing ain't never gonna
fly on them stubby wings," Miley said.
"It doesn't have to fly,"
Sam said. "It can use its six legs to walk."
"It ain't got but four,"
"What about them little ones?"
one of the men asked.
"I said that's enough!" the
"Oh, alright," Sam said,
watching Miley smirk.
Sheriff Dixon used the twigs to pick
up the chimera and put it into the plastic dish. The owner of
the dish quickly slapped the lid on, as though the bugor
whatever it waswould try to escape.
"Bring them shells we netted outa
the lake, too." The sheriff said. "We'll put all this
stuff on ice until the university guys arrive."
As the group started to disperse, Sheriff
Dixon said, "One more thing. Nobody says anything about thisto
anybodyuntil I say it's okay."
Everyone nodded. "You understand
me, Miley?" the sheriff asked.
Miley just continued to walk toward
Miley Toms turned to the sheriff. "Why
don't you tell Sam? He's the one who'll talk."
"I'm tellin' you both; I'm telling
alla you; nobody says 'boo' until I say so!"
A scouting party located a stream where
they could discard the casts of the last instar. As Vantu had
directed, the dump was further from the apple cellar than either
Brown's or Davenport's lake. In fact, it was downstream from the
Davenport's. To avoid detection, the workers took a circuitous
route around the lake. With the heightened awareness of the Earthlings,
the Nevians were forced to work only in the dead of night.
The encounter occurred on the third
night. Not far from the Davenport's home, a pair of Nevians was
ambushed by the Davenport's barn cat. Before they could tubulate
the cat, one of the workers was snatched up by his carapace and
shaken senseless. His companion panicked and fled to the apple
cellar, scattering casts along his path.
The death of the Nevian terrified the
remainder of the landing party. They had been certain that tubulase
would protect them from all predators regardless of size.
"For tubulase to work," Vantu
said, addressing the assembled landing party, "it must be
"I don't care what you say,"
a worker shouted. "I'm not going out there again!"
"Then you'll condemn our entire
speciesour entire planetto death." Vantu said.
Inaltera, who had been sitting to the
right of Vantu, rose. "For any of us to ever see our families
and friends again, our mission must succeed."
Grumbles and groans emanated from the
"You were selected," Vantu
reminded them, "on the basis of your determination, andyeseven
on your valor. Your fellow worker will be hailed as a hero upon
our return home."
Turning to the worker who'd witnessed
the death, Inaltera asked, "Are you willing to continue your
work for the good of our people?"
Put to him that way, the worker could
only answer in the affirmative.
"Good!" Vantu said. "Then
our work can continue."
"It is too late now to retrieve
the casts that were jettisoned, or even the body of our fellow
worker," Inaltera said. "We'll just have to hope that
they will not be discovered, and that we'll be able to retrieve
them tomorrow night."
"Sheriff, you'd better come right
over and look at what our cat caught," Ellen Davenport said.
"It ain't no Earthly creature." Ellen Davenport was
more correct than she realized. Her cat had played with the Nevian
corpse before carrying it to the house, where it proceeded to
chew on the body. Even the cat's thrashing had failed to remove
all of the Nevian's clothing; foot coverings and shreds of cloth
still clung to the corpse.
"This one's different from the
others," the sheriff said
"Others? There's others and you
didn't warn us?" Ron Davenport asked.
"Calm down, Ron!" the sheriff
said. "We found something like this last week and the university
guys are studyin' it right now."
"So that's what Miley was hintin'
at," Ron said.
"What did Miley say about it?"
"Nothin' really, Sheriff. He just
acted like the cat that ate the canary. Said we might need more
insecticide this season."
"Well, this ain't no insect!"
Ellen said. "No insect I ever seen wears shoesand clothes."
"I can't argue with that, Ellie.
This is something else again."
"So what're you gonna do about
it, Sheriff?" Ron asked.
Sheriff Dixon took off his hat and
scratched his head. "The first thing I'm gonna do is swear
you two to secrecy. You can't tell anybody - and I mean anybody
- about this until I find out what's goin' on!"
Ellen started to protest, but Ron shot
her a look. "Okay, sheriff, then what?"
"I'm gonna get the university
guys up her to look at it, an' then go over every inch of your
place, close as stink on
"What about me?" Ellen asked.
"What should I do?"
"I'm bettin', Ellie, that you'll
be entertainin' the university guys."
The sheriff put on some rubber gloveshe'd
started carrying them regularlyand picked up the Nevian
corpse. "Smells funny." He turned it over, examining
the wounds that the cat had inflicted, the shreds of clothing,
and especially the shoes. "You got a zip-lock bag, Ellie?"
Ellen didn't want the creature in her
freezer, not even in a plastic bag, so Sheriff Dixon pulled a
soup can out of the garbage and dropped the corpse in. Ellen obliged
with some chipped ice from the freezer.
The workers gave the Davenport farm
wide berth the following night as they dumped the last casts farther
downstream. A team was dispatched to look for the casts that had
been dropped the night before, tubulase at the ready.
"Are you certain that you got
all of the lost casts?"
None of the workers answered.
"So, you're not certain,"
"By tonight it shouldn't matter,"
Inaltera said. "Some of the chimeras have already started
to pupate. We've deactivated the programmable histones that will
inhibit the bee genome."
"But only a handful have produced
chrysalides," Vantu said.
"I'm sure that by tonight this
place will be loaded with chrysalides, and in two days we'll have
an army of Nevians."
"Does that mean no more cast disposal?"
one of the workers asked.
Vantu surveyed the apple cellar, appraising
its volume. A nod from Inaltera confirmed his assessment. "No
more cast disposal," Vantu agreed. "We'll leave them
here with the empty chrysalides."
The university team had arrived at
the Davenport farm and confirmed what the sheriff already knew.
The creatures were intelligent beings, most likely of extraterrestrial
origin. Sheriff Dixon immediately swore everybody to secrecy.
On the advice of the scientists, the Davenports farm was quarantined,
but over the objections of the scientists, Sheriff Dixon summoned
several of the people from town who had already had contact with
the creaturesat least with their discarded shells.
When Sam Burt, Miley Toms, and Clem
Hopper arrived, the sheriff briefed them on what was known about
the creatures and the casts that had been found, once again swearing
them to secrecy.
"I've deputized a few of us who
know what we're facing," the sheriff said. "We'll fan
out to see if we can find any more of these things."
"Or their shells," Miley
"Or their shells," the sheriff
"We're off the regular channel,
so nobody in town should hear out radio traffic. I still don't
want any unnecessary chatter."
The posse started to disperse when
the sheriff stopped them. "One more thing. If you find anything,
I don't want any mention of bugs or creatures or aliens. I want
you to say, 'I found the lost calf'."
Some of the university team had taken
over the Davenport's farmhouse. Sheriff Dixon didn't want the
scientists housed in town for fear that the local TV stationand
then the whole countywould descend upon the farm.
The Davenports were more than happy
to oblige. They would be among the first to know what the creatures
were, and most likely, they would be amply reimbursed by the university
for their hospitality.
Following more than an hour of small
talk on the radio, which the sheriff attempted to quell, Sam Burt
blurted out, "Sheriff, I found the calf
or at least
part of it!"
"Where are you, Sam?"
"I figure I'm about a quarter
mile downstream from Davenport's lake."
"Stay put, Sam," the sheriff
said. "We're headed your way."
The search team converged on Sam's
location, but not before encountering other casts. By the time
the team assembled on the stream bank, three other casts had been
"We put a stick in the ground
and tied a rag around it whenever we found a
"You don't need to call them calf
skins if we're not on the radio, Miley," Sam said.
"But the sheriff said
"Only on the radio, Miley,"
Sheriff Dixon said.
"And I found the first one,"
"And I found the first one na
na na naa na," Miley mimicked.
"So what are they, Doc?"
the sheriff asked.
One of the university team picked the
cast up with forceps and rotated it so that he could examine it
from all angles. "Frankly, I don't know what it is, exactly."
"Whadda you man, not exactly?"
Sam asked for them all.
The scientist continued. "It's
definitely insect-like, but it's not an insect cast." He
raised the cast for all to see. "This shell is not made of
the same material that essentially every insect on Earth uses
as its exoskeleton."
"Excuse me?" Sam said.
"It means that it's not like any
insect skin I've ever seen. It's not made of the same stuff."
Well, that's some information,
Sheriff Dixon thought. "What else do you know?" he asked.
"We know from the previous casts
that you sent us that whatever it is grows very rapidly. And not
in the water."
"You don't think it crawled outa
the water?" Miley asked.
"No," the scientist answered,
"it's definitely not aquatic. It couldn't breathe underwater."
"So what if it swam to the top
and took a breath like a turtle?" Miley asked.
"This creature is not a swimmer,"
the scientist said, rotating the creature so that Miley could
see the slender legsas though Miley would comprehend the
"Then why do we always find them
near water?" the sheriff asked. "We even found some
in the water."
"My guess is that they don't live
near the water, but maybe water has something to do with their
molting. It could be; the chemical composition of the shell is
different from chitin."
"From what?" Sam asked.
"Kitin'," Miley said. "Ain't
you ever been kitin'?"
"Not that kind of kitin',"
the scientist said. "The kind that crab shells and beetle
wings are made of."
"What if somebody's just dumpin'
them in the water, like cracked crab shells?" Miley asked.
"You might be onto something,
Miley," the sheriff said. "What do you think, Doc?"
"I suppose it's possible,"
the scientist said, "but I can't imagine why."
"Let's forget about motive for
the time being," the sheriff said, "and see if we can
find where they came from."
"Did you tell him about the bees,
sheriff?" Sam asked.
"What about the bees?" the
"A few weeks ago," the sheriff
said, "about eleven hives of bees just up and disappeared.
I can't see how it's related, though."
"Well, I can," the scientist
said. "The mouth parts on the early casts most closely approximated
those of nectar gatherers."
"What'd he say?" Miley asked.
"He said the creatures eat like
bees," Sam said.
"No, not quite." The scientist
continued. "The later casts show a major change. The mouth
parts are still bee-like, but more like those of yellow-jacket
hornets, what you call 'meat bees'."
"So you think the disappearance
is somehow related, Doc?" the sheriff asked.
"I can't see how," the scientist
said, "unless there was a massive mutation. No
see how the disappearance is related."
The scientist put the cast into a plastic
bag. "Could you show me where you found the first cast? And
I'd like to see the hives where the bees disappeared."
"We found the first 'bugs' over
by Brown's lake," the sheriff said. "The hives were
scattered around several orchards."
"You know, sheriff," Clem
said, "there was some funny business at the school a while
back that involved bees."
"Before the disappearance?"
the sheriff asked.
"Yes, Sir," Clem answered.
"Okay, Clem," the sheriff
said, "let's hear all of it."
Clem looked at the group and felt foolish
for bringing it up. "Not much to tell, really. My daughter
came home from school one day and said that some bees had attacked
a girl in the playground."
"Did she say how badly the girl
had been stung?" Miley asked.
"That's the funny part
one of the funny parts, Miley. She wasn't stung at all."
"So what's the other funny part?"
the sheriff asked.
Clem scratched his head self-consciously.
"The girl said that she seen this silver globe with bees
comin' outa it, an' then she said she seen some bugswell,
not really bugscomin' outta that sphere."
"Why didn't anybody tell me about
this?" the sheriff asked.
"Weren't no need to, Sheriff,"
Clem continued. "Next day she came down with the Chickenpox.
Figured she was just seein' stuff from getting' sick. My Kathy
came down with them the next week."
"I need to talk with her,"
the sheriff said. "What's her name?"
"Think, Clem. It's important."
Now Clem's head scratching was born
of confusion. "Carson
Carsten, Carlton; That's it,
"Everybody stay put!" the
sheriff said. He walked back to the Davenport's and got on the
phone, asking the operator to connect him to the Carlton farm.
"She's at school," Mrs. Carlton
said. "What's this about?"
"It's about those bees and the
silver globe that Alicia saw. What did Alicia say about them,
"No need to concern yourself about
that, sheriff. She was coming down with the Chickenpoxgot
them the next day. She was just terrified of the bees."
"I'd like to talk with her, anyway,"
the sheriff said. "Could you bring her up to the Davenport
farm on Brick Church Road?"
"I suppose so, Sheriff. Is it
important? Could it wait until she finishes school?"
"It would be better if you brought
her up as soon as you can. We think that Alicia may be able to
solve a mystery."
"Oh, I doubt that, Sheriff, but
I'll get her out of school if you think I should."
"I would certainly appreciate
it, Mrs. Carlton.
As soon as the sheriff hung up the
phone, he turned to the scientists. "I know you don't like
it, but if Alicia Carlton saw what we all think she saw, than
she's already exposed to whatever it is you're tryin' to protect
One of the scientist who'd remained
at the house, started to object, but the sheriff cut him off.
"And that's final!"
The posse checked the banks of the
stream, but found no more casts. Although the sheriff wanted to
search the area around Brown's lake, he'd decided to wait until
he could talk to Alicia Carlton before widening the search.
Back at the Davenport farm, the scientists
had reached some tentative conclusions. "Their blood isn't
based on iron like ours is."
"So what's it based on?"
the sheriff asked, as though he'd understood the statement,
"I can't tell for certain until
we analyze it in the lab, but my guess is that it's either copper
"And what does that tell you?"
"Not much, really," the scientist
admitted, "except that it's not from Earth."
"Any idea where it is from?"
the sheriff asked.
"Well, Sheriff, I can tell that
it's not from our solar system. Earth seems to be the only planet
in the solar system that could support this life form."
"So it's from outer space,"
the sheriff said incredulously.
"It certainly looks that way,
Sheriff. We'll know more after the analysis of blood and tissue
Mrs. Carlton arrived with a very shy
Alicia in tow. She'd told her daughter that the sheriff wanted
to ask her some questions about the day the bees attacked her.
When Alicia was introduced to the sheriff
and became the focus of attention, she surveyed the assembled
grown-ups and asked, "Am I in trouble? Did I do something
The smiles and stifled laughs assured
her that she was not in trouble, but at the same time deepened
her embarrassment. "Nobody believed me before."
"Well, we do now, Alicia,"
the sheriff said. "We most certainly do now. We'd like you
to tell us what you saw that day."
"You mean about the bees and all?"
"Yes, Alicia," her mother
said, brushing a hand through her daughter's hair. "And especially
about the shiny sphere."
"The one you said I made up?"
"I'm sorry I didn't believe you,
Alicia. I really believed that you'd only thought you'd seen the
sphere because you were getting sick."
"And the bugs," Alicia pressed
"Yes, Dear, those too,"
Alicia, now more self confident, turned
to the sheriff. "I told everybody that the shiny ball was
just there all-of-a-sudden, like."
"How did it get there?" the
Alicia shrugged her shoulders. "I
it just was, and then it wasn't."
"Are you saying it suddenly appeared
and then just as suddenly disappeared?" one of the scientists
"I'll ask the questions!"
the sheriff snapped.
Alicia faced the scientist. "You
don't believe me either."
"Oh, no, Sweetheart," the
sheriff said, "we all believe you now. We just need
you to tell us everything that happened."
Alicia flashed a look at her mother.
Mrs. Carlton smiled. "No, Dear,
just what you saw. The rest is our secret."
A relieved Alicia turned to the sheriff
again. "A whole lot of bees came out of the shiny ball and
buzzed all around me."
"Yes, Alicia, we know that part,"
the sheriff said. "We'd like to know what else you saw."
Once again, Alicia took a quick look
at her mother, who nodded reassuringly. "Then some bugs
well, not really bugsI don't know what they wereran
out of the shiny thing and went into the woods."
Mrs. Carlton stroked her daughter's
hair. "Tell them the rest, Dear."
"One of them bug-things looked
at me." Alicia surveyed the group for signs of disbelief
and found none. "I know it looked at me."
"What did the bug-things look
like, Alicia?" the sheriff asked. One of the scientists started
to retrieve the specimen, but the sheriff waved him off.
"They were different colors,"
Alicia said. "I never told nobody that."
The group drew in closer as though
privy to a secret. One of the scientists asked what colors they
were and the sheriff shot him a withering look.
Alicia looked from the scientist to
the sheriff. "Most of them were sort of gray, but the one
that looked at me was kinda green."
"Were there other green ones?"
the sheriff asked.
"A couple more, I think, but there
were a lot more gray ones."
"How many gray ones?" the
"I won't warn you again!"
the sheriff said. "You'll get your chance to ask questions
when I'm through."
Sheriff Dixon turned to Alicia. "Sorry,
Sweetheart, he won't interfere again. You can go ahead and answer
Alicia screwed her face up. "I
don't really know
"And were they the same color
"No!" Alicia shouted with
self-discovery. "They weren't! They all had sort of brownish
heads and I think their feet."
"Their feet?" the sheriff
asked. "How did they walk
like us or like bugs?"
Alicia looked to her mother for comfort.
"Not like us or like bugs."
"Could you describe their walk
or show us?" Mrs. Carlton asked.
Alicia thought for a few seconds, feeling
the pressure to respond. "More like bugs than like us, I
guess, but not like ordinary bugs."
Mrs. Carlton continued to stroke Alicia's
hair. "How were they different from ordinary bugs, Dear?"
Alicia paused again, searching her
memory for a good example. For the first time since the interrogation
began, a smile brightened her face. "You know how spiders
will sometimes sorta stand up in front with the rest of their
feet on the ground
No one uttered a sound while Alicia
groped for a better example.
"No, not like a spider. More like
a praying mantis! Like they almost walk like us, and they can
carry stuff, but they're still just big bugs."
"Are you saying that the things
you saw walked on four of its legs like a praying mantis?"
the sheriff asked.
Alicia's smile disappeared. "I
don't know. I couldn't see how many legs they had because they
were in the grass. It's just that they didn't walk straight up
like us, or crawl like a bug."
One of the scientists let out an audible
sigh. The sheriff was about to chastise him when he said sheepishly,
"Sorry, Sheriff, I'm just relieved. I thought we were about
to go down the wrong path."
The sheriff nodded, and apologized
to Alicia for the interruption. "Did you say that they were
Alicia seemed to draw back into herself.
"I never told nobody about that part because it was just
She glanced at her mother to find that
she was smiling back at her. Giving the sheriff her full attention,
Alicia continued. "I think they were carrying things
maybe like boxes and stuff."
The sheriff stole a quick look at one
of the scientists, and returned his gaze to Alicia. "You
never told us how big the bug-things were."
"Bigger than a praying mantis
maybe twice as big."
"Could you show us with your hands?"
the sheriff asked.
Alicia extended her arms timidly and
adjusted the distance between her index fingers until they were
about eight inches apart. "About this big, but they weren't
all the same size. Some looked fatter than others."
"You mean like fat and skinny
people?" the sheriff asked.
"No, not like that," Alicia
said. After a moment's reflection, she continued. "You know
how some fish are thin like snakes and others are fat like catfish?
That's how they were."
The scientists exchanged looks among
themselves, but said nothing.
"Okay, Alicia," the sheriff
said, "what happened to the shiny sphere?"
"Nobody believed this part, either."
"Don't worry, Sweetheart, everybody
here believes every word of your story."
"It's not just a story,"
Alicia said. "Stories are made up."
"Sorry," the sheriff said.
"We know you didn't make it up."
"The shiny ball just disappeared.
Just like that."
"Can you tell us anything at all
about its disappearance?"
Alicia just shook her head.
"What about the grass?" Mrs.
"The grass?" the sheriff
"It sorta laid down and then stood
up and the ball was gone."
"Where did the grass do that?"
the sheriff asked.
"Right where the ball was, "
Alicia said. "Right where it disappeared."
The sheriff looked at one of the scientist,
who just shrugged.
"Alright, Alicia," the sheriff
said, "would you recognize these bug-things if you saw one
Alicia looked at her mother and then
"We may have captured one,"
the sheriff said.
Mrs. Carlton stopped stroking her daughter's
hair, and Alicia cringed against her.
"It's not pretty, Alicia,"
the sheriff said. "The Davenport's cat captured it and it's
in pretty bad shape."
Alicia clung to her mother, expectantly.
"We'd like you to take a look
and let us know if this is what you saw in the schoolyard."
Alicia shook he head. With some difficulty,
Mrs. Carlton disengaged herself from her daughter to face her.
Holding Alicia by her shoulders, she said, "This is very
important, Dear." Before continuing, Mrs. Carlton looked
from the sheriff to the scientists for reassurance. "If you
weren't the only person to see the bug-things alive, these people
wouldn't be asking you to look at it."
Once again, Alicia shook her head.
Tears welled in her eyes.
"Alicia, Dear," Mrs. Carlton
said, "I'll be right her with you. She looked pointedly at
the sheriff, who nodded nearly imperceptibly. "All you have
to do is tell us if this is what you saw. Can you do that for
When Alicia nodded, tears rolled down
her cheeks and she wiped them away with her forearms. One of the
scientists took the tray on which the bug-thing lay and approached
the two Carltons. Alicia screamed and ran from her mother's grasp.
"That's one of them!" she yelled, and broke into sobs.
"How can you be sure it's the
same as those you saw at school?" the scientist asked.
"The eyes," Alicia answered,
between sobs. "They're just like the one that looked at me."
"That's all," Mrs. Carlton
said, as much to reassure herself as her daughter.
Suddenly the pregnant silence was broken;
everyone seemed to be talking at once.
"We gotta warn people!" Miley
"What're we gonna do about 'em,
sheriff?" Sam wanted to know.
When Sheriff Dixon had reestablished
order, he answered some questions with others. "What should
we warn them about, Miley? They haven't done nothin'. What we're
gonna do is find out all we can about them."
"Like why they're here!"
Clem said. "An' what they want. They didn't come for nothin'!"
There was no disagreement with Clem
Hopper. They did, indeed, need to find out why the bug-things
"Alright! Alright!" the sheriff
shouted. "Let's see what we know."
To gain some time for thought, Sheriff
Dixon removed his hat and wiped his brow. "We know we have
maybe thirty of them bug things
"More than that, sheriff,"
one of the scientists said. "Those casts you've been finding
they're from larvae, and we don't know how many larvae there are."
"Or how long they take to mature,"
another scientist added.
"Right," the first scientist
said, "but from the casts that you've found, we know that
they have to undergo pupation before they mature."
"How do you know that?" the
"Each of the successive moltsI'm
assuming they're successiveis distinct. None of them look
like the adult formassuming that this specimen is an adult."
"You mean like caterpillars?"
Miley asked, pleased to demonstrate his knowledge of bugs.
"Almost certainly like caterpillars
or maybe like grasshoppers
I'm not sure. One thing we do
know," the scientist continued, "is that if this is
the normal size of an adult, there shouldn't be many molts between
the last casts we found and the adult form."
"What does that mean?" the
"It means," the scientist
said, "that there may soon be more adults
"Like how many?" the sheriff
"Hard to say," the scientist
said, "but if we use bees as a model, there could be thousands
of new adults."
"But whatta they want?" Clem
asked again, looking to the others for support. "I say they
want our uranium, or our oil, or our gold
Maybe it's gold
One of the scientists spoke up. "If
they have the technology to reach Earth, we can't have any idea
what they want. Two hundred years ago, we would have thought that
they wanted our coal; a hundred years ago, it would have been
gold; then oil; now uranium."
The sheriff glared at Clem, who asked
the question anyway. "So whatta you think they want?"
"Can't tell," the scientist
answered. "It could be something as simple as wood, or even
air or water. There's just no way to know."
"Alright! Here's what we do know.
We've got aliensmaybe thirty and maybe thousandsholed
up somewhere around here, and they want something, but we don't
The sheriff stood up and stretched
away the weight that was squarely on his shoulders. "We can
call in the National Guard to find these thingsand all hell
breaks looseor we can find them ourselves."
"And then what?" Sam Burt
"Damned if I know, Sam. I'm makin'
it up as I go along."
Laughter broke the tension. "Given
the state of development of the last larval stage," one of
the scientists said, "I think we ought to be looking for
"Right!" Sheriff Dixon said.
"We found shells at Brown's lake, here, and along the stream.
They gotta be near one of them places. You got a map, Ron?"
Ron Davenport retrieved a county map
from the hutch and spread it on the kitchen table. "All them
places are nearly in a straight line."
"What about the school?"
Ron drew a circle around the school
and connected the circle to his lake and to Brown's lake with
straight lines. "I'm bettin' it's in this triangle."
"Yeah?" Miley asked. "How
come nobody seen them?"
"Good point, Miley," the
sheriff said. "Where in the triangle could thousands of these
things be hiding?"
"Not much there but orchards,"
"And barns," Sam added. "Any
abandoned barns in the triangle?"
"Far as I know," Sheriff
Dixon answered, "everybody's still usin' all their barns."
"What about the Booth's farm?
Sam asked. "Nobody's moved in there since they left."
Ron found the Booth farm on the map
and circled it. "Ain't in the triangle. Pretty far from it."
"Let's forget the Booth place
for now," the sheriff said.
"I can't believe it!" Inaltera
said. "It's just not possible!"
The landing party watched as at first
a few and then hundreds of chrysalides released their adult Nevians.
Only they weren't Nevians, not quite. Each of the transformed
adultsthose that survived pupationwas monstrous caricature
of a Nevian.
Most of the surviving mutants had grotesquely
disfigured headsmultiple eyes, no eyes, eyes where chemoreceptors
should have sprouted. Many had deformed legs with which they dragged
themselves out of their chrysalides.
"Is there anything we can do?"
"Nothing!" Inaltera replied,
fear and disillusionment stretched across her face. "It's
a complete disaster."
"Why didn't we see this back in
the laboratory?" Vantu demanded to know.
"Sure," Inaltera said, "we
had a few mutations; that's expected, but nothing like this
Vantu surveyed the expanding menagerie
of Nevian-like creatures. "Can we still use them? Are they
capable of operating the deuterium extractors?"
Inaltera had tried to communicate with
the most Nevian-like mutants. "They can't even care for themselves.
They are completely subnormal."
Vantu fixated a mutant with a Nevian
face. "What about those with normal heads?"
"No better! Even those that look
normal have no apparent intellectual capacity."
"Can we train them?" Vantu
"Train them? Inaltera shouted.
"We can't even feed them!"
"What do you mean 'feed them'?"
"Look around!" Inaltera shouted,
panic now overriding her professionalism. "They're drooling
idiots! They can't even feed themselves!"
Vantu shook her violently. "Don't
break down now! I
we need to straighten out this mess!"
Inaltera had been sorting possibilities
in the back of her mind. "There's no straightening it out.
They're beyond recovery. Something corrupted their neural anlage."
"How can you know that?"
The wave of panic had passed, and Inaltera
recomposed herself. "I don't exactly know it, but look at
what we've got. All of the defects we can see, and the intellectual
defects, point to impaired development of neural epithelium."
Vantu continued to watch as still more
mutants emerged from their chrysalides. "How did this happen?
I repeat, why didn't you catch this in the laboratory?"
Still surveying the developing disaster,
Inaltera turned slowly to face her mate. "This is not my
Pet! We saw no neural anlage mutations in the laboratory!
None! Whatever happened, happened on Earth!"
"You know, Sheriff," Sam
Burt said, "there might be a place for them to hide in the
Ron Davenport tapped a finger on the
tiny square that identified the Brown's residence on the map.
"Here's their house, a couple of barns, their cold storage
all these places have people in them."
"Yeah, I know, Ron," Sam
said, "but when I was a kid, I used to play at the Brown's
"So?" Ron asked.
"I'm just tryin' to think,"
Sam said. "It was a long time ago."
He played with his watch while his
mind reviewed his past experiences. "Dick Burdick andDick's
dead nowDick and I used to dare each other to spend the
night in Brown's apple cellar."
"Nobody's got apple cellars anymore,"
"Well, Miley," Sam said,
"you're right that nobody ever uses them anymore. There was
even one at your place before you bought it. But, they're still
"What about Brown's?" Sheriff
"I ain't been there in years,
but I remember that Brown didn't build his cold storage where
his apple cellar was, so it could still be there."
"Ellie," the sheriff said,
"could you get Jeremy Brown on the phone? Tell him I want
to talk to him. Tell him it's important."
"It musta been more than thirty
years ago, Sam," Clem said.
"More like forty," Miley
"Miley, you weren't even here
forty years ago."
"Don't make no difference, Sam"
Miley said. "People ain't used them for more than forty years."
Sam just shook his head. "Have
it your way, Miley."
"An' besides," Miley said,
"there ain't no abandoned buildings in Brown's orchard. We'd
a seen it on the map."
"You really don't know squat about
apple cellars, Miley. Most of them were dug into the side of hills,
some were dug into the ground and looked like just a roof layin'
on the ground. Nobody built them like barns. No point."
Ellen stuck her head into the kitchen.
"I've got Jeremy on the line, Sheriff,"
"Hey, Jeremy, Sheriff Dixon here."
"What can I do for you, Sheriff?
Ellie said it was important."
"It is, Jeremy, but it may not
seem like it to you. When was the last time you looked in your
"My apple cellar? This is about
my apple cellar?"
"Then it's still there,"
the sheriff said, as much question as statement.
"Last time I looked it was."
"And when was that, Jeremy?"
"Gotta be three
Sheriff. What's this all about?"
"We'd like to come over and take
"In my apple cellar? Sure, I guess
so, but what are you looking for?"
"We'll tell you about it when
we get there." The sheriff looked at the group in Davenport's
kitchen. "There'll be six of us."
"Six? Who's with you?"
"I'll introduce them to you when
we get there. And, Jeremy
don't go out to your apple cellar
until we get there!"
"Six," Miley said. "There's
ten of us here. Ain't you takin' the scientists?"
Sheriff Dixon scratched his head and
replaced his hat. "I'm takin' three of the scientists with
me. One'll stay here with the Davenports."
"Who else if goin'?" Miley
asked. "Ain't all of us goin'?"
"You're not goin', Miley,"
the sheriff said. "You're too excitable. I can't handle that
"Too excitable? Me? Too excitable?"
Miley shouted. "You ain't seen the half of it, Sheriff!"
Miley started for the door, planning
to hop into his pickup and beat the others to Brown's apple cellar.
"Hold on, Miley!" the sheriff
said. "That was a test and you failed."
Miley ripped his hat off and threw
it on the kitchen floor. "You know what you can do with your
"I need you here, Miley,"
the sheriff said.
"I said I need you here. You're
in charge of communications. We need to stay in radio contact,
and I need somebody who's seen all the shells and the bug-thing.
You're the only one I've got."
Miley picked up his hat and dusted
it off on his shirtsleeve. "Oh, alright, Sheriff. I see what
Jeremy Brown was waiting on his porch
when Sheriff Dixon's entourage pulled into his driveway. "You
sure have gotten my curiosity up, sheriff." He handed each
of the men a flashlight. "Some of these ain't none too bright,
but they should work."
"Get your camera, too, Jeremy,"
the sheriff said. We'll probably need it."
Jeremy led the group to a shed where
he parked his crew cab dually pickup. "It's a ways out, an'
off the beaten path," he said, as the six men slid into the
truck. Clem Hopper jumped into the pickup bed.
After a bumpy five-minute drive, Jeremy
said, "There it is."
"Yep," Sam said. "Just
like I remember it."
Clem Hopper craned his neck to see
what they were looking at. "That? That's just part of an
old barna wall, maybe that somebody dragged here."
"Wrong, Clem," Jeremy said
as he exited the pickup. "That's the only wall of the apple
cellar. The rest's inside the hill."
Sheriff Dixon was the first to notice
that a narrow path had cleaved the grass in front of the steeply
inclined wall. "It looks like we may have hit pay dirt."
For the first time that anyone could remember, Sheriff Dixon drew
his service revolver.
As the group approached the ancient
facade, Sam pointed out that a few of the lower boards had been
swung aside, creating several small doorways into the apple cellar.
The door, which at one time had slid along tracks had collapsed
onto the slanted surface, its hasp still locked.
"Does anybody else small something
funny?" one of the scientists asked.
"Now that you mention it
Sam said. The others nodded.
"Termites!" Clem said. "Smells
like termites when they swarm. Same sickly-sweet smell."
Sheriff Dixon told the others to stay
back while he approached the door to the apple cellar. He pulled
the gutter spike that secured the hasp and pried up the rusty
hasp-plate, and using the plate as a handle, he inched the door
Thousands of mutant Nevians slithered
aimlessly among the remaining chrysalides, from which more mutants
were emerging. The landing party frantically dragged discarded
chrysalides to the rear of the apple cellar, their efforts largely
thwarted by the mindless mutants.
"It's hopeless," one of the
workers shouted. "There's not a mind among them. They make
me sick just to look at them!"
Eventually, all of the landing party
came to the same conclusion, as one after another, they relinquished
"They're right, you know,"
Inaltera said. "It is hopeless. Weall of usare
Vantu surveyed the unfolding disaster.
"Maybe not all of us."
"What do you mean, Vantu, not
all of us?"
"We could stay here on Earth,
we and the landing party."
Inaltera grabbed Vantu and shook him.
"And what? Live in one of their zoos? Live in the woods and
be preyed upon by every carnivore in sight? And don't forget,
I'm the only female. There is no possibility that our species
"What about our brood?" Vantu
"Our brood? This is my
brood! And when they hatch, I will not let them live to be imprisoned
on Earth, to be viewed as freaks!"
"I believe that I have something
to say about what happens to our brood," Vantu said.
"You are so ignorant! I can't
believe I ever mated with you!"
"What do you mean, ignorant?"
Vantu asked. "Ignorant about what?"
Inaltera swept an appendage. "Look
around you! Something on Earth caused these mutations. Do you
think my brood would be spared?"
Vantu said nothing.
"Now you see, Vantu, for the first
time that all of us, even future generations if they were possible,
are already as good as dead. There is only one course of action
open to us."
Vantu looked to where the landing party
was gathered near the water source. "What about them? Don't
they have any say in the matter?"
"Can't you see, Vantu, that they
already know their fate? Ask them; go ask them!"
Vantu instructed the landing party
to tubulase all of the mutants and the remaining chrysalides:
and with feelings of deep regret, disgust, and sorrow, the workers
completed their task. One worker, the de facto leader of
the landing party, reported to Vantu. "Now there are only
Nevians here. We know that we will never see home again, and most
of us have decided not to live out our lives here on Earth."
Inaltera had been right, as usual,
Vantu thought. He nodded absently. "What are your plans?"
"No one will be left behind,"
the worker said, "and the remaining tubulase will be decomposed.
Vantu looked longingly at Inaltera.
"Then it's over."
Sheriff Dixon inched the wooden door
back far enough to see into the apple cellar. "Whew!"
"Whadda you see?" Sam Burt
The sheriff moved back from the narrow
opening. "I can't see much of anything yet, but the termite
smell is pretty powerful."
"Oh, yeah," Clem said, "that's
it, alright," as the odor reached the rest of the group.
"Jeremy," the sheriff said,
"I can't hold my gun and the flashlight, and still slide
open this door. I need you to slide the door for me."
Using both hands, Jeremy Brown was
more successful than the sheriff in sliding the trackless door.
"That's enough!" the sheriff
said and shined his light into the apple cellar, sidearm at the
Jeremy peeked over the sheriff's shoulder.
"Good God! There must be thousands of them!"
The others rushed to the door to look
"Not so fast!" the sheriff
shouted. "We don't know what's in there yet!"
As if on cue, the sheriff's radio crackled
into life. "Did you find anything, yet?" Miley asked.
"Get off the radio, Miley! I'll
call you when I find somethin'!"
Clem Hopper helped Jeremy slide the
door back until the entry was wide enough to admit a human. The
termite smell nearly overwhelmed the group, but their curiosity
won out. Seven beams of light pierced the interior.
After several minutes of scanning the
contents of the apple cellar, Sheriff Dixon moved to the doorway.
"I'm goin' in. The rest of you wait until I tell you it's
okay for you to come in."
They watched as the sheriff moved among
the thousands of corpses, discarded casts, and piles of empty
chrysalides, many of them still enveloping their pupae. Finally,
the sheriff signaled the others to enter the apple cellar.
"They sure stink!" Jeremy
"But they haven't been dead long,"
one of the scientists said. "There's no aroma of decomposition."
"Unless they decompose differently
from the way we do," the other scientist said, "and
that's what we smell."
"Take some pictures, Jeremy,"
the sheriff said.
As Jeremy started to photograph the
contents of the apple cellar, the sheriff keyed his radio. "Miley,
I need you to send Ron to Bernstein's Rentals and get us some
floodlights and a couple of generators."
"What'd you find, Sheriff?"
"Did you hear what I said, Miley?"
"Yeah, I heard, but what did you
"Miley," the sheriff said,
"we got us a whole herd of dead calves."
"Criminy! Sheriff, I'm comin'
"Miley! Sit tight! I need you
right where you are!"
"Oh, alright, Sheriff, I'll get
Ron workin' on the lights."
"Tell Ron to tell Bernstein that
I need the lights. Don't tell him anything else."
"Check!" Miley said as he
unkeyed his radio.
The lights revealed the extent of the
horror. Before the day ended, network TV had turned Brown's orchard
into a media circus. Sheriff Dixon called in the National Guard
to cordon off the area and to maintain some semblance of control.
Our first contact with an alien species had ended disastrously.
The First International Conference
on Extra-Terrestrial Physiology was convened at the National Institutes
of Health. The best minds from universities and laboratories worldwide
had been unable to determine the cause of death of the alien species.
Disseminate cellular destruction was evident in each of the corpses,
but no causative agent for the massive apoptosis could be identified.
One bright spot at the conference was
an announcement that in every mutant studied thus far, the teratogenic
and mutagenic agent appeared to be a viral genome that had intercalated
into the DNA of the alien species. Sequencing the intercalated
viral DNA revealed the virus to be Herpes Varicella Zoster, the